Puno, PERU - There has been a debate raging lately: are the parents of children accomplishing big feats such as climbing Mt. Everest or sailing solo around the world selfish, self-absorbed parents forcing their own dreams upon their children or simply parents encouraging and helping their children to dream big?
As the parent of 12-year-old brothers currently attempting to break the world record as the youngest people to cycle the length of the Americas, I am uniquely qualified to answer that question. My husband, John, and I are currently cycling from Alaska to Argentina with our twin sons, Davy and Daryl. We left in June 2008 when the boys were ten and expect to reach our goal somewhere around their thirteenth birthday.
For some people, the very idea of putting young children on a bicycle for that length of time and that many miles screams abuse. They can’t even imagine what it must be like to spend all day, every day in the saddle – therefore it must be bad.
But the reality of our journey is far, far removed from their ill-conceived perceptions. They see us cycling centuries every day; in reality our daily average so far (after two years on the road) is a mere 27 kilometers. We typically ride less than fifteen days per month.
We feel we are giving our children the childhood dreams are made of. We are a family working together toward a common goal. Our children are equal members of our team, working side-by-side with their parents.
Our boys are also learning about the world in a way few children do. They are meeting people from many different countries, immersed in various cultures, using currencies foreign to their own, and gaining a much deeper understanding of humankind than the vast majority of Americans will ever have. In today’s interconnected world, this alone makes our journey worth the difficulties we face.
I don’t mean to sugar-coat our journey in any way. We’ve dealt with our share of trials and tribulations. We were chased by a bear in British Columbia, rode in pouring rain for a solid week between Jasper and Banff, and woke up in a tent buried in snow in Montana. We pushed our bikes through miles of deep sand in Mexico and sweated like fevered pigs in Costa Rica. The four of us slowly, agonizingly, ground up 8000-foot climbs in the Andes and battled headwinds day after day along the Peruvian coast.
Yes, our journey has been difficult in many respects, but each one of us is more than willing to deal with those challenges for the good times we share. As I pedaled side-by-side with my son, Davy, the other day he said, “I can’t believe we’ve actually had bad times on this trip. When I look back on our trip, all I remember are good times.”
And good times we’ve had. We cycled alongside a bison as he thundered along the roadside sending small clouds of dust into the air with each powerful stride. We’ve crested hills and felt our breath get all tangled up in our throats at the sheer beauty of the valley spread out before us. We’ve climbed ancient Mayan and Incan ruins, surfed massive waves, and frolicked in hot springs pools. But mostly, we’ve delighted in being together as a family out exploring our world.
Our critics accuse my husband and me of pursuing our dreams at the expense of our children. They say we are dragging our sons along and forcing them to live the life of our dreams, but they are wrong. Davy and Daryl are completely committed to this journey of ours. They are determined to make it to the end of the world. This dream is their dream just as much as it is ours.
“Ten-year-old kids don’t think up the idea of cycling from one end of the world to the other,” our critics say. And that’s true – they don’t. John and I came up with the idea and proposed it to our sons. They embraced it wholeheartedly.
It is true that they didn’t fully understand just what they were about to attempt – does any ten-year-old truly understand how far 18,000 miles is? But they had already cycled 9300 miles around the USA and Mexico and were confident they could pedal 18,000 miles more. And they knew they wanted to.
Davy and Daryl have learned that life isn’t all a bed of roses – there are some thorns in there too. They’ve learned that life isn’t all flat roads and tailwinds – there are days that cause you to dig deep and pull out every ounce of determination you have.
But that’s how life is – whether you are traveling on a bicycle or living in Boise, Idaho. Some days are like that. My sons have learned to forge ahead, to place one foot in front of the other, and to keep following their dreams. They’ve learned that triumph is just around the corner and to cherish the thrill of victory.
So are my husband and I selfish, irresponsible parents who are abusing our children by riding from one end of the earth to the other with them? I don’t think so. I think we are simply encouraging our children to dream big and strive to achieve their goals. We’re teaching them to dream the impossible dream and reach the unreachable star – and I have no doubt they will do exactly that.
Nancy Sathre-Vogel is currently cycling from Alaska to Argentina with her husband and twin sons. She is documenting their journey for Guinness World Records at www.familyonbikes.org and also writes for Examiner.com about international travel and bike touring throughout the world. Please contact her at email@example.com
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